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New Davao province has to wait

Comelec says it’s not ready to hold plebiscite in May

DIGOS CITY—The creation of a new province out of Davao del Sur will ease tension between two political clans known for violent clashes but it may have to wait until the Commission on Elections (Comelec) receives funds and puts in place preparations for a plebiscite.

The creation of Davao Occidental, signed into law by President Aquino on January 15, has created a separate territory that could serve as a bulwark of the Bautista political clan, a bitter rival of another political clan in Davao del Sur, the Cagas family.

The law, Republic Act No. 10360, seeks to form the new province out of the Davao del Sur towns of Sta. Maria, Malita, Don Marcelino, Jose Abad Santos and Sarangani. The new province’s proposed capital is Malita.

If ratified in a plebiscite, the creation of Davao Occidental will leave Davao del Sur with the towns of Malalag, Sulop, Kiblawan, Hagonoy, Sta. Cruz, Matanao, Bansalan and Magsaysay and this city.

Digos City Mayor Joseph Peñas said if there is one thing the division of Davao del Sur would bring, it is a halt to the often violent rivalry of political clans.

Peñas refused to identify who the clans are, but the rivalry between the Bautista and Cagas clans is known to be fierce, and often violent, in Davao del Sur.

In the 2007 elections, candidate for governor Claude Bautista was accused of involvement in the murder of Isidro Sarmiento, a candidate for mayor and supporter of Gov. Douglas Cagas. Sarmiento’s son, Danny, was also killed in what the Bautistas described was a gunfight.

Claude lost in the gubernatorial elections but filed a protest in Comelec, accusing Cagas of fraud.

The rivalry between the Bautista and Cagas clans prompted police to put Davao del Sur on their election watch list.

Representative Franklin Bautista said he vigorously pushed for the new province because areas in the first district of Davao del Sur are being neglected by the province’s officials because of politics.

The new province, however, has to wait until the Comelec gets funds and is able to prepare for the plebiscite, which is a difficult task, according to a provincial election official.

Ma. Febes Barlaan, Davao del Sur election supervisor, said the Comelec is busy preparing for the midterm elections in May and “we have not prepared for this plebiscite.”

The law that created Davao Occidental provides for a plebiscite to coincide with the elections in May.

Electing the new province’s officials in May, however, is next to impossible, according to Barlaan.

Barlaan said the plebiscite could be held this year of Congress sets aside funds for it and the Comelec gives it a go.

The next time a plebiscite may be held to ratify the creation of Davao Occidental will be in the national elections in 2016, Barlaan said. Orlando B. Dinoy, Inquirer Mindanao

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Tags: Comelec , Davao del Sur , Davao Occidental , Plebiscite , Regions

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